August 30, 2010

Starting over

I think today was the first day of autumn. The air smelled like school.
This of course can only mean one thing: it's time to shop for personalized stationery and get back in the game. Looking forward to spending endless hours at the library, writing essays and getting little or no sleep before an exam. The nerd in me hasn't been so happy in a long time.

The art of baking gingerbread

Let it never be said that my kitchen skills are limited to making coffee and toast. But for my talents to shine it takes a very special setting, super secret ingredients from far away lands, a magic spell and an oven that works miracles in less than three minutes. It is very likely that baking will not become part of my daily routine, but it was fun to experiment it in the Museum of Gingerbread in Torun.
While mixing the ingredients and rolling dough I found out that the essential ingredient for gingerbread is black pepper (?) and also the Polish names for different types of flour, which was definitely the most useless information I've gotten in ages, both from a practical and a linguistic point of view.

While waiting for the gingerbread to bake some of us had to kneel in front of the oven and pray, which was even more disturbing as we were supposed to do it in Polish. Luckily the Master of Gingerbread, under whose guidance we baked the cookies, read our impure thoughts about gingerbread and allowed us to finish our prayer before we even started it.

And finally, the proof that I can bake (and in case anyone has any doubts, my friend Karolina can give a firsthand account of this experience).

Baking gingerbread was just one of the highlights of our trip to Torun. We also found out about the end of art and accidentally participated in a wedding. But the best thing about it was that I finally came to understand some crucial aspects of my falling in and out of love with Warsaw. Soon to be revealed.

August 28, 2010

Indoor gardening

There are days when I feel very grown-up and responsible. The reasons for feeling this way may vary from wearing a serious outfit to doing a great job with one of my projects to averting a crisis or to being financially independent from my parents for more than 12 months in a row. Some other times, it all comes down to growing basil. This is particularly enjoyable as it has a slight retro hint - I sometimes think I might be able, in the not so distant future, to grow my own food and never have to eat fruit & veggies that taste like plastic.

It takes the average basil about two weeks to die under my careful and loving eye. In the end, I tell myself, it's only a plant I would have probably eaten sooner or later, so why bother? Good thing I don't plan on taking care of a dog, a cat or even a goldfish. Failure would be almost inevitable and too hard to stomach.

August 27, 2010


It was only a few years ago that we were all still in Bucharest, planning and dreaming and hoping to change literature and the world, convinced that the impossible was possible even if we were well aware of just how naive we were. Back in those days our hearts were as open as our agendas and we somehow managed to deal with the lack of sleep and disorganized schedules a lot easier than we do now. Apparently it did wonders for our creativity.
And there was no better feeling than getting our hands on an unpublished manuscript that we got to review for our magazine before everyone else did or to publishing an interview with an author we adored or to finally meeting a deadline - this actually only happened a few times and that's what made it memorable.
I remembered all of these things when reading one of the million articles published these days about Jonathan Franzen's new novel. If you're into this whole Franzen frenzy, you can find the article here. This fragment is a very accurate description of how things used to be. Surely, proportions do not bare comparison but the feeling is the same. It's one of those feelings I haven't had in quite a while and that makes me just a bit nostalgic:
So yes, I've read the new Franzen. In literary circles this is the equivalent of getting hold of the new YSL coat two months before it arrives in stores, or snaffling the new Radiohead album before they give it away for free. Truly, having some contraband Franzen in the Guardian office is like bringing pure cocaine powder into a record label company.

August 23, 2010

Language delights

In Portuguese, a casual relationship is called "a colorful friendship" (amizade colorida).

August 21, 2010

Closed chapters

Over the years I have happily closed some of the chapters in my life and celebrated their transformation into memories. I've kept others open for as long as I could, simply because they were too fabulous to close. And then there are uncertain chapters, the ones I'd like to think were still open, but going back to them feels rather unnatural and odd. Since I can't decide what to do with them, I just leave them as they are, hoping that one day I might go back but knowing for a fact that I won't.
Summer schools fall under this last category. For about eight years, they were the thing to look forward to every summer. New places, new languages, new people, everything on fast forward, a world away from daily routine, with an intensity that left me wanting more every time. All the promises made and never kept - I'll write / call / come visit / never forget you and the easy way out - it's one of the unwritten rules of summer schools, nobody actually believes that promises will be kept, but everybody knows summer is not complete without them.
I got to thinking about this a few days ago, when it dawned on me that my love for Warsaw, before moving here and making it my sort of home, was not so much about the city itself, but about the people. And the people who made everything so perfect, so fresh and fun were not the locals, but the ones I had met during summer schools.
Something tells me the age of academic tourism is over. Once you're out of the circuit, it's tough to get back in and it may even turn out to be a huge disappointment. But that's a risk I'd be willing to take, for the sake of those few weeks filled with the excitement of discoveries and promises never kept.

August 11, 2010

Ballroom tattoos. And a note on the Anonymous author of The Bourbon Kid

A lot of new arrivals on this blog lately and it seems like this summer everyone is after two things: dancing and books. Isn't that just lovely?
Apparently, everyone in France is searching for the Anonymous author of The Book With No Name and this quest brings some of the readers here. Which is nice, but this is not the best place to look for that information.
Those who are not that much into reading are either planning to get tattoos or take up ballroom dancing or both and so they show up here looking for ballroom dancing tattoos or wondering if tattoos are allowed in ballroom dancing.

Let's take them one at a time and start with the facts, then we'll take a look at fiction.
Ballroom dancing and tattoos. Yes, they can go hand in hand, although it's probably not a great idea. There's no rule against tattoos in ballroom dancing however if you do decide to get a tattoo and still compete it would be best to go for something small, preferably in a place that's not exposed. After all, you should remember that ballroom dancing started as a form of social dancing for the privileged (now think of those who used to have tattoos back when ballroom dancing became increasingly popular and you'll know why they're not exactly compatible). True, the term has changed its meaning and now refers to International Standard and International Latin style dances but that does not mean everything has become acceptable overnight. If, however, you're just dancing for fun (and dancing is a lot of fun, not to mention it can teach you a thing or two about compromising, teamwork and trust) then there's really no argument against tattoos. I'm very much enjoying mine and I think they're even more beautiful while I'm dancing. Here you can read more about what's allowed and what's not allowed in competitive dancing.

Moving on to The Bourbon Kid and his Anonymous author, the answer is simple and it's right there in front of you, as long as you learn to read between the lines and stop listening to what everybody says/writes about him. All it takes is a little effort and a little imagination. But before anything else you should respect the fictional pact you make with the author the minute you open the books (my advice is to try to add your own amendments to it, see if it works).

August 10, 2010

Enough is enough

It appears some people in Poland simply can't let go. So there was a tragedy. And the way people gathered in April in front of the Presidential Palace to pay respects to their late president and the victims of the Smolensk plane crash was amazing. They proved, once again, that they can be united and solemn and avoid transforming history's sinister ironies into a cheap show for the whole world to watch.
Until about a week ago, when it was finally decided to remove the memorial cross that stands in front of the Presidential Palace. Hundreds of people have been protesting ever since, blocking the cross, defending it, tying themselves to it and insisting it be kept on state ground rather than on church ground - at least until a permanent monument is built at the site.
While in April it was perfectly fine to take a detour to get to work and I had all the sympathy in the world for the people standing outside the palace and for their grief, now I find it annoying as hell and I totally agree with my Polish friends who think this whole circus is really embarrassing and it's not doing anybody any good.
Luckily, most of the people in this country are still sane. Others even find the whole incident funny and make their point loud and clear:

Coming soon in front of the Presidential Palace
photo: Tomek Oginski

August 5, 2010


Turns out being 26 is as confusing and annoying as being 16. Ten years ago, I used to think that my problems were bigger than anybody else's because they were mine and the world just didn't seem to understand this or to care. As the years passed I gained some sense of proportions and while I'm still selfish and think my problems are as real as can be even when they're not, I'm at least trying not to make such a big deal out of it. But this still doesn't change the fact that I'm clueless and have no idea what the next step should be.
The good news, however, is that if this is a cycle then all I have to do is wait one more year and things will be clear, I'll have a plan, a map, a new destination and some brand new adventures on the horizon.
In the meantime I am pleased to discover that dancing is a more efficient therapy than lying on a couch and whining about my fictional problems. And even if it fails to put me back on track, at least when that moment comes, I'll be more than happy to practise my steps on the new found path.

August 1, 2010

The Tempest & the black chicken

Two weeks into my "local tourist in Warsaw" project, things are going quite well although I still seem to grab with both hands any opportunity to get out of the city. Well, maybe not any opportunity, just those that sound really, really good, like a weekend spent partly at the beach, partly at the theater, seeing Shakespeare get the Polski treatment in three cities and more than 20 venues down by the sea. My friend M. was coordinating a project for the Romanian Cultural Institute, as part of the Shakespeare International Festival, and since it wasn't the first time I made some volunteer work promoting Ro culture, I thought my efforts would be compensated with lazy mornings at the beach, performances, Margaritas and late night parties. This was my first error of judgement: having met, along the years, some amazing artists from Romania, I almost forgot not everyone back home is cool and entertaining. There's one thing I can't come to terms with: people who are arrogant and full of themselves without having the goods to back this up with. I also dislike boring people, but that's something I learned to tolerate at least to an extent. But when boring meets arrogant meets stupid, I find it rather difficult to be nice and smile and pretend I'm amazed at the simulation of talent and creativity. And the saddest part is that one such encounter can shade off all the other great experiences, reminding me of the things that really annoyed me back in Ro. So my weekend was not as relaxing as I dreamed it would be, and the icing on my cupcake were a very smug director and a perpetual malcontent douchebag scenographer, a black chicken that made an appearance at the beginning of the play (I still don't get the connection between Shakespeare's Tempest and the chicken, but I'm sure they were on to something), a performance that relied on the talent of 3 actors out of a dozen and way too many hours spent backstage.
In the end, the wheel turned on the last day, after a splendid interview with the director of the Shakespeare Festival, a man so amazing and charming and wise who in the end made me understand something that's commonsensical, but appeared to have slipped my mind for a short while: I'm not at all absurd when expecting some people (and by some I mean those in culture & the arts) to be smart, well-educated and to have a spark. It is entirely possible, and it can even justify arrogance and self sufficiency.